With conflicts over natural resources in Peru escalating, the passage of a new law permitting military intervention to address civil unrest has left Amnesty International concerned about potential human rights violations in the country. On September 11 the military was deployed under the new law in anticipation of protests over a proposed irrigation project in Espinar province.
The Majes-Siguas II project would irrigate 95,000 acres of agricultural land in the region of Arequipa by diverting water from the Apurimac River, one of the most important water sources for Espinar province. The project is part of a broader movement to safeguard agricultural exports by expanding and improving viable farmland, currently threatened by water shortages and the melting of Andean glaciers.
Espinar residents assert that the diversion of water will create a dire shortage. While the government argues that the province will have more than enough water to meet its own needs, representatives of the protesters say that the government has failed to take into account that the Apurimac is the only source of water for Espinar’s inhabitants, as other rivers in the area have been polluted by mining. “They are condemning us to a slow death. In the future we know we will have less water,” the leader of the protesters, Nestor Cuti, told a reporter from the Guardian. “Climate change and global warming indicate in the next years we will have even less.” The most visible incidents in the conflict to date have included a clash with police that left one dead, and a series of protests that shut down flights from Cusco for a day.
The new law allowing military deployment to deal with instances of civil unrest comes during a period of broader civil unrest over natural resource management. Last year indigenous rights groups clashed with police over government policies concerning mining and drilling in the Amazon, with one incident leaving dozens dead. In May the Peruvian human rights group DefensorÌa del Pueblo reported that there had been over 100 conflicts in Peru related to the environment and natural resource extraction in the previous month alone. Amnesty International has warned that allowing military intervention to respond to this broad unrest may lead to “grave human rights violations.”
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